Who's key to deep playoff run for Mavs?
Kidd is key
"Have you been watching?" coach Rick Carlisle said when asked that question. "A lot. It's pretty obvious what he means to us. In his absence, we've been able to win really more than our share of games if you look at the whole season. But this past week it's been very tough, so getting him back is very important."
Kidd returned to the Dallas lineup Tuesday night against Sacramento. The Mavs went 1-3 without him during this latest injury stint, his third of the season.
It's no secret that Kidd has not had a good season. He is averaging career lows across the board: 5.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds. His shooting has been awful: 34.6 percent overall and 33.5 from beyond the 3-point arc, where he takes more than 81 percent of his shots.
Even his ratio of turnovers per 100 plays is at the highest point of his career, and his assist percentage is well below his previous low mark, all the way back in his rookie season of 1993-94.
Obviously Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion and others have to play well, but these numbers all show why Kidd -- the head of the snake, as his teammates call him -- is essentially important to the Mavs' postseason chances. If he is not healthy or not playing well or both, defending the title will be mission impossible.
We all saw that in the 2009-10 season he played with a gimpy back and was apparently under the weather. The Spurs completely shut Kidd down -- 7.0 points (32.1 percent from 3) and 7.0 assists -- and the Mavs were eliminated in six games.
Now look at his postseason numbers from last year's championship run: 9.3 points (37.4 percent) that included eight games in double figures, 7.3 assists and a career-playoff-best 40 steals. Add his excellent defense, particularly in late-game situations and most notably against Kobe Bryant, and Kidd defied his age to win his first championship.
Consider that Kidd has just six games this season in which he's scored double figures; combined with the reduced assists and increased turnovers, it's easy to see how critical it is for the surefire Hall of Famer to play at an elite level to give this reshuffled Mavs team -- which is far less potent than a year ago -- a real chance to do damage in the playoffs.
So how important is it for the Mavs to have a healthy, rested and maximum-level Kidd for the playoffs?
"Pretty damn important," owner Mark Cuban said.
Mavs need the Matrix
There's no doubt that Dirk has to be in dominant form for the Mavs to have any realistic chance of making a playoff run, much less repeat as NBA champions. The Mavs rely on Marion more than anyone other than the reigning Finals MVP.
You could make an argument for Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, the guards who join Nowitzki as the Mavs' closer committee. The highlights of the Mavs' championship run are chock-full of crunch-time shots those guys hit.
Marion has been even better on defense this season, and the Mavs have asked even more out of him, often assigning the forward to chase potent point guards.
The return of guard Delonte West from a fractured right ring finger somewhat lightens Marion's defensive load, but the Matrix is still the primary reason the Dallas defense has improved statistically despite the loss of anchor Tyson Chandler in free agency.
If Marion doesn't continue to perform like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, count on a one-and-done playoff run for the Mavs, if they even make the postseason.
Oh, and the Mavs also need the Matrix to be an efficient offensive weapon. He can't average 11 points, as he has during the regular season.
That doesn't mean Marion needs to be a go-to guy, as he was during his days as a four-time All-Star for the Phoenix Suns. The Mavs rarely run plays for him, and that isn't going to change in the playoffs. They need him to get his points as a cutter and slasher and fast-break finisher.
The stats don't lie. The Mavs have a 10-1 record when Marion scores at least 15 points this season. They are 15-4 when he scores at least 13.
Do the math. That means the Mavs are 17-22 when Marion scores a dozen or fewer points.
The Mavs depend on Marion more than any other player to impact games on both ends of the floor. If he doesn't shut down a superstar and serve as a legitimate second or third scoring option, the Mavs will have a ton of free time in late May.